YESTERDAY, John Kerry called the New York Times to blast the Bush administration's North Korea policy. As David Sanger wrote in today's front-page Times story, it is "highly unusual for Mr. Kerry to seek out a reporter on Sunday, when he had no public appearances scheduled, to attack Mr. Bush."
Still, the Bush administration's North Korea policy is a subject of legitimate debate, and Kerry is entitled to call a New York Times reporter, even on Sunday, to press his case. But what is stunning is how little of a case Kerry had to press, even though he had chosen the topic and the occasion.
Kerry did charge "that this is one of the most serious failures and challenges to the security of the United States, and it really underscores the way in which George Bush talks the game but doesn't deliver." He continued, according to Sanger: "'They have taken their eye off the real ball,' Mr. Kerry said, his voice almost shaking in anger. 'They took it off in Afghanistan and shifted it to Iraq. They took it off in North Korea and shifted it to Iraq.'"
So far, so uneventful. But then Sanger apparently pointed out to Kerry that the Bush administration had, after all, organized negotiations involving North Korea's neighbors to try to deal with North Korea's nuclear program. Mr. Kerry dismissed those: "They haven't made it work, they haven't put anything real on the table.'' So what would Kerry put on the table? What would Kerry's policy be? Kerry might have expected this question when he placed the call. Here is Kerry's (non-) answer:
"When Mr. Kerry was pressed about how he would handle the threat of a North Korean nuclear test if he was in the Oval Office, he declined to be prescriptive, other than to say that the issue would probably have to be taken to the United Nations Security Council. 'Hypothetical questions are not real,' he said, arguing that North Korea was a case for preventive diplomacy, and that Mr. Bush's 'ideologically driven' approach had kept him from truly engaging North Korea. 'The Chinese are frustrated, the South Koreans, the Japanese are frustrated,' he said.'"
"He declined to be prescriptive." Fantastic! A presidential candidate calls a reporter to highlight a topic, and then has no policy to prescribe--except going to the U.N. Security Council, three of whose five permanent members are already involved in the negotiations the Bush administration is conducting.
Does Kerry realize that he is running for president? Voters do rather like their next president to indicate what he might do. Even if it means being "prescriptive."
William Kristol is editor of The Weekly Standard.
Previous Campaign Memos: